Rich Poythress felt overmatched early last summer.
Greenbrier's Rich Poythress leads all hitters in the county in home runs, batting average, RBI, doubles and on-base percentage.
Photo by Jonathan Heeter
It might have seemed odd to some that the rising junior from Greenbrier would ever struggle when he stepped into a batter's box.
But Poythress traveled to Florida two days after the Wolfpack season ended to join Team Florida Elite, one of the best amateur baseball programs in the nation.
After all, it was Poythress who had been in the starting lineup since he stepped on campus and been named All-County after his freshman and sophomore seasons. Just days before going to Florida, Poythress hit a grand slam off Columbus' Iain Sebastion - one of the nation's top prep hurlers - in the state semifinals.
"It was a whole different world down there," Poythress said. "You see people every day throwing 88 to 90, 92 mph and they can really pitch. The first two weeks, I looked like I hadn't picked up a bat since middle school."
By the end of the summer, Poythress was hitting the ball to the opposite field regularly and felt as though he proved himself.
Early in the fall, Poythress broke a number of college coaches' hearts when he verbally committed to the University of Georgia. He hadn't even played a game in his junior year and he already knew where he was going to school.
Greenbrier first baseman Rich Poythress catches the ball during a recent game at the Brierpatch. He played on the Team Florida Elite, an amateur baseball program.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"It seemed like the right place for me," he said. "I know a lot of the guys and I love the coaches up there. I wanted to go to LSU all my life. But Georgia is close to home and everything fell into place."
After undergoing successful knee surgery, the junior suited up and brought his blue-collar work ethic to the hardcourt and was instant energy for the Wolfpack basketball team, which made its first-ever trip to the state playoffs.
"You can't describe what Rich Poythress brings to the table," teammate Reggie Rice said.
"He is such a hard worker and brings intensity to every game. Our season turned around when he came back in January after his surgery."
Although Poythress says he loves basketball, his future is in baseball and he couldn't wait to apply some of the tools he learned in Florida to the prep diamond.
He has raised his batting average more than 160 points, from .402 as a sophomore to a county-best .565. He also leads the county in home runs, on-base percentage and RBI. He is in the top five in doubles and runs scored.
"We're only eight games into the season, but Rich has stepped it up this season," said Greenbrier coach Ed Williams. "You're seeing a kid that was already a great player who strives to just get better."
Poythress already was a disciplined hitter, striking out only 16 times through his first two seasons. With the improvement he has had this year, however, Georgia fans might never see Poythress step on campus.
"I think about the draft," he said. "But that is a long way away and I have to get better before then.
"I saw guys in Florida, you know, some of the guys that are ranked in the top 20 players in the nation," he said.
"These are the guys that should take the money when they are drafted. I'm just not there yet. I think I'm a good baseball player but I'm not that type of player."
It is possible that Poythress will follow the steps of Cross Creek senior catcher Jon Egan, another Georgia-bound player, who, by all accounts, will be a high-round pick in June's baseball draft.
Egan had a similar meteoric rise between his sophomore and junior seasons. After his junior year, Egan was selcted to play in the AFLAC All-American game, a distinction that Poythress would love to receive.
"I keep up with Egan," he said. "He's a great hitter. I guess the best compliment I could give him is he hits like a man. If it comes to it, I'd love to be his teammate at Georgia."
Poythress is concentrating on his high school career for the fifth-ranked Wolfpack, which had to replace seven senior starters from its state semifinal team.
"Last year our lineup was so strong," Poythress said. "I'd hate to be a pitcher facing our lineup. But I didn't really think about not having those guys hitting around me going into this season. I think our players can be every bit as good as last year's players. They just have to get some confidence and experience."
Poythress said his biggest adjustment this season had nothing to do with hitting.
"I felt like I needed to be more of a vocal leader this year," he said.
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